Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Two Empires: Are These the Last Years of the Roman Empire--or the First of a New Empire?

by Robert Tracinski

Objectivists have frequently compared contemporary America to the last years of the Roman Empire, and the comparison provides many useful parallels to today's situation. The fall of Rome provides timeless lessons about the destructiveness of religious faith, the false alternative between religious traditionalism (at that time, the worship of the old Roman gods) and a new pacifist creed (at that time, the rising faith of Christianity) that disarmed the Romans and allowed them to be destroyed by a horde of primitive barbarians. The players have changed in many way--Christianity is now the established religious tradition, the new pacifist creed is nominally secular, and the barbarians hail from a different part of the world--yet the lessons still apply.

But it is also clear that there is something else going on in the world today--that American power and influence in the world is, in many crucial ways, expanding rather than contracting. When President Bush declares that "freedom is on the march," it is more than mere political rhetoric. The news stories linked to in today's TIA Daily are an indication. If the big story of the previous decade was the fall of Communism and the establishment of free societies in the former Soviet satellites of Eastern Europe, one of the biggest stories of this decade is the liberation of the former Soviet republics, many of whom were Russian vassals for centuries, and many of whom are now becoming American allies.

And this is not just about Ukraine and Georgia. The events in Eastern Europe are having important reverberations in the Middle East, directly inspiring street protests in Lebanon that drove out (and may yet destroy altogether) the Syrian dictatorship.

Yet any such progress seems improbable, if not impossible. How can liberty be spreading in the world--when it is so lacking in philosophical defenders in its home country, the United States of America? How can freedom be on the march, when hardly anyone fully understands what it means and what it requires?

The fact that America's influence *is* nevertheless spreading, and that it is reaching even the unlikeliest corners of the globe, such as Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, is a fact that I have been documenting day by day in TIA Daily, as relevant news stories come to my attention. I have also shared with you, especially in recent months, my thesis about some of the mechanisms by which American influence is being spread--the process that Jack Wakeland has called the Empire of the Pursuit of Happiness. But this is a much larger topic requiring a much more in-depth exploration and a more detailed analysis, which is why I have chosen to make it the topic of a series of TIA-sponsored teleconference lectures I am giving next month.

For more details, and to sign up for these lectures (either individually or as a package), Click here.

There is a great deal that I have to say on this subject that goes beyond what I have already documented and discussed in TIA Daily--and there is, I think, no topic more important to understanding today's world.

This is also an issue that is personally important in shaping one's view of the future prospects for civilization. Are we living in a re-enactment of the last years of the Roman Empire--or are these the first years of the Empire of the Pursuit of Happiness? That question cannot be answered definitively, of course, because the outcome is not determined by any inevitable force of history. But that is precisely why it is so important to understand what is happening in the world today--to understand, not only the forces for evil, but also the forces for good, and to discover the best way to aid the triumph of the good.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: The Not-So-Religious Conservatives

Intellectuals on the right seem to be taking a moment to ponder whether they really want to back the religious conservatives. Unfortunately, the not-so-religious conservatives tend to be pragmatists who want to "balance" religion and secularism.

Top News Stories
A "Freedom Tower" Worthy of the Name?
• The Empire of Fashion Shows
• America No Longer a Terror-Sponsoring State?
• Creationism Returns "in a Cheap Tuxedo"
• Commentary: WSJ Roots For, Against Religious Right
• Commentary: Brooks Roots For, Against Religion

Departments
• Human Achievements: The 15th Century
• Things of Beauty: The Blue Boy

A "Freedom Tower" Worthy of the Name?

The awful design for the "Freedom Tower" at the World Trade Center site has been scrapped because of "security concerns"—and if you believe that, you also believed that Dan Rather retired because he wanted to work on his golf swing. The column below speculates on the real reason for the change, but doesn't quite get to what I think is most important: everyone wanted to jettison postmodern architect Daniel Libeskind.

Libeskind's design—a tower whose top was hollow and filled with windmills (!) as an "ecological" symbol—was an obvious esthetic disaster, a statement of defeat, not defiance. Note also that, according to another New York Post report, the project's real architect, David Childs, just happens to have a new design waiting in the wings that will be just as tall but will "look a lot different."

"Who Killed 'Freedom'?" Steve Cuozzo, New York Post, 5/5/05

"The original Freedom Tower was what Philip Nobel's book 'Sixteen Acres' called a 'mongrel' project—principally designed by Childs and structural engineer Guy Nordenson, but forced to include Libeskind's off-center antenna spire. The decisive 'architect' was Pataki, who had the final cut. Childs wanted a 2,000-foot structure; the governor chopped that to 1,500 feet, and then stuck Libeskind's spire atop it to reach 1,776 feet. That created consequences only recently understood. The flimsy birdcage structure couldn't support the weight of the off-center spire. And, we're told, the birdcage, significantly shortened by Pataki, no longer provided sufficient space between the windmills to ensure their structural integrity. The NYPD, in other words, saved all hands from having to acknowledge what no one dared say: that George E. Pataki's grand skyline-reclamation was always an impossible dream."

Monday, May 02, 2005

TIA Daily Contents: The Spirit of New York City

Over the past few years, the awful plan for a "postmodern" building to replace the twin towers of the World Trade Center has sunk under a wave of non-enthusiasm. What is being advocated to replace that plan—and what will it say about the spirit of New York City and the spirit of America?

Top News Stories
• PBS Death Watch
• The Spirit of New York City
• The Fourth Referendum on the War
It Reaches Egypt
• Sharansky's Ideals
• Commentary: The Feeble Engines of Despotism

Departments
• Human Achievements: Bicycle-Tricycle
• Things of Beauty: Rebuilding the WTC

Feature Article
• "The Social Security Distortion" Revisited, by Robert Tracinski
Why the Left Fears "Progressive Indexing"

It Reaches Egypt

There have been a lot of reports recently about how President Bush has "lost" his election mandate (see the latest from today's Washington Post). But his election mandate is just fine. It was a mandate to fight the war—a mandate that wiped out domestic opposition to the war, allowing the subjugation of Fallujah and the Iraqi election, and the continuing shock waves that followed, from Lebanon to Egypt.

The latest shock wave in Egypt is very big: a revolt by the nation's judges, who are demanding their independence from the executive—and who are only doing so now because they expect support from the West. Look for this story to get bigger in about two weeks, when a national judges' association meets and many more judges will potentially join this political rebellion.

"Some Judges in Egypt Lend Voice to Chorus for Reform," Megan K. Stack, LA Times, 5/2/05

"The rebellion erupted last month in the sober, stolid quarters of the Alexandria Judges' Club: 1,200 magistrates publicly demanded judicial independence from an all-powerful president, and threatened to refuse to certify fall elections if they didn't get it.... The judges' demand is a symptom of a new, unpredictable energy that has seized Egyptian politics after decades of stagnation—and of the popular discontent snowballing in the region. 'We guess that this is our chance,' said Assam Abdel Gabbar, an Alexandria judge who sits on Egypt's court of appeals, 'and we don't believe it will come again anytime soon.'... The judges acknowledge they are taking advantage of pressure already bearing down on Mubarak's 24-year-old regime. The elections are approaching fast, and US leaders have been unusually critical of Arab dictatorships—including Egypt, a longtime American ally. 'Our main aim from the start was to choose a time when those abroad would hear us,' said Hisham Bastawisi, a Cairo judge on the court of appeals. 'The West didn't used to listen to us; now they're listening. They used to listen only to governments and to back up dictatorships, but recently they're listening to the people.' President Bush's emphasis on democratization in the Middle East, coupled with elections in Iraq and the popular uprising in Lebanon, have contributed to a sense of unease among the region's dictatorships....

"On the books, the maximum monthly salary for an Egyptian judge hovers between $43 and $86. As one former judge said despondently, it's not even enough to pay the maid. And so the judges depend upon bonuses doled out by the justice minister. Some judges collect as many as 20 checks a month, with the bonus pay and fringe benefits such as transportation costs."